When you take the show to Vegas, the razzle-dazzle goes up a notch, even for one of sport’s most dramatised spectacles: the NFL Draft.
Due to be held in front of the Bellagio Hotel, with the players transported to the stage by boat across the famous fountains, this was the year the National Football League entered Nevada to stay, coupled with the Raiders franchise moving in from Oakland.
Instead, with coronavirus forcing the postponement of all mass gatherings, this life-changing event for so many sportsmen with a distinct gameshow aura, will be held virtually. And the best bit? It will be even more captivating than ever before.
The 2020 NFL Draft was scheduled to be held in front of the Bellagio Hotel fountains in Vegas
Animations of the spectacle were released earlier this year with the NFL set to raise the stakes
Instead Cincinnati Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin will be working virtually
That’s right, the richest sporting league on the planet is going full steam ahead with this year’s Draft, using video conferencing and projecting the drama of picks, trades and celebration from cameras installed around houses.
The policy is stay at home, and the NFL is no different. Such a scenario poses a whole array of intriguing, watch-it-to-see-it questions. How will teams’ coaches and general managers communicate? What if the internet connection falters? What if the whole show crashes in front of millions worldwide?
There is even reportedly an old-fashioned landline available to each franchise to submit picks, in case the whole process turns into a farce with juddering Wi-Fi and buffering streams.
All in all, quite a challenge for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who last year was the star of the show in front of 600,000 visitors in Nashville. Over the next three days, all eyes will be centred on his basement.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reads out names at last year’s Draft in Nashville, Tennessee
Quarterback Kyler Murray was picked at No 1 by the Arizona Cardinals in 2019
‘There’ll be an audience which will tune in because they’re fans and they’ll be people who tune in out of morbid curiosity,’ says Sky Sports NFL presenter Neil Reynolds.
‘I was talking to a league official at the weekend and I said I think they’ll be more eyeballs on the Draft than ever before because people are crying out for fresh sports content and a chance to talk about other anything than coronavirus.
‘It’s going to be fascinating. I’m interested in the players and the picks… but I’m also really interested to see what the Commissioner’s basement looks like!’
NFL presenter Neil Reynolds says the draft could draw a bigger audience than ever before
On the night, all the pressure will be on Goodell, who must be quaking in his boots that the IT and technology goes smoothly. Usually speaking in front of thousands in a arena, the solitary confinement of his own basement will present a new scenario altogether.
Yet despite this ‘never seen before and hopefully never see again’ event, in almost every other way the NFL is the one sport which hasn’t been overtly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, with the Super Bowl concluding last season at the beginning of February.
Hopes are still high that upon the 2020 season starting in September, all this will have passed over. The schedule will be announced at the beginning of next month. As much as possible, the NFL has ploughed on as planned.
‘The Draft being done this way – the NFL see this event as a great distraction for America and for the world,’ comments Reynolds, host of the Inside the Huddle and The Neil Reynolds podcast.
The set-up of one a Bengals’ backroom staff member at home, fitted with screens and cameras
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow looks set to be picked at No 1 by hometown Cincinnati Bengals
‘There’ll be more people interested in this draft. The NFL will be very cautious and they’ll plan it to the nth degree, simulated it, to test every possible thing which could go wrong.
‘This is where it takes on a whole new level and appeals to so many people, when we can have a poke around people’s houses while they’re doing the draft – they may never go back to a city after this, this may change everything!’
Within all this, it’s easy to forget that, same as every year, the lives of hundreds of former college prospects will change for ever. Documented, as it has to be, for our entertainment.
TOP PICK DRAFT BETTING ODDS
1st overall pick
- Joe Burrow: 1/100
- Chase Young: 14/1
- Tua Tagovailoa: 20/1
- Justin Herbert: 30/1
- Andrew Thomas: 30/1
2nd overall pick
- Chase Young: 1/30
- Tua Tagovailoa: 15/1
- Justin Herbert: 17/1
- Isiah Simmons: 25/1
- Joe Burrow: 25/1
- Jeffrey Okudah: 33/1
3rd overall pick
- Jeffrey Okudah: 11/10
- Justin Herbert: 4/1
- Tua Tagovailoa: 9/2
- Derrick Brown: 5/1
- Isiah Simmons: 10/1
All odds from RedZone.bet
There will be cameras in the houses of 58 players, streaming their reaction to picks, or rejections. It’s quite the platform for your dreams to be realised with a multi-million dollar contract or ripped to pieces.
The first round commences at 8:00pm (ET), or 1am in the UK. With media and supporters everywhere predicting the picks in the form of mock drafts, the early protagonists shouldn’t be all too surprising.
Joe Burrow, the Heisman Trophy winner awarded to the best college player that season, is set to be picked at No 1 by the Cincinnati Bengals.
The quarterback is from Ohio and Reynolds believes the Bengals would be doing their fans no favours if they spring a late surprise on the night.
‘He’s a special story too because going into the 2019 college season, there was no mention of Joe Burrow.
‘He had the best single season explosion in college football history. To get to where he is now, nailed on number 1 pick, he has everything going for him.’
Chase Young, ‘the best player in this draft’ according to Reynolds, looks set to be No 2 pick by the Washington Redskins while the main talking point is the destination of QB Tua Tagovailoa, who was this 2020 class’ main prospect before a hip injury in November curtailed his season.
The Miami Dolphins are the favourites to pick up Tua with the bookies, though they could also plump for Justin Herbert, who has no injury concerns.
Elsewhere, it’s a sterling year for wide receivers, with as many as six potentially going in round one. Reynolds also noted the versatility of defensive player Isaiah Simmons, who can astonishingly play in four different positions.
‘That is incredible in this era. He’s going to be like a chess player.’
Defensive end Chase Young is a player who can be expected to make an immediate impact
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will be hoping his hip injury hasn’t affected his chances
But beyond all the round one picks, 10 minutes between each bringing the show to well over five hours (in classic NFL fashion), witnessing something totally unique in these undoubtedly unique times will be something everyone can tune in for – up to 80 million are expected to do so.
As much as Rob Gronkowski’s retirement u-turn this week attempted to divert attention away from the Draft, that trade and reunion with Tom Brady in Tampa only adds to the spice surrounding the NFL currently.
It’s not corona-related. It’s not replays of matches staged in years gone by. It’s a real, live sporting event, with drama a near-certainty. From the Sin City strip to out-of-sync Zoom calls, it’ll be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.
Watch the stars of the future in the 2020 NFL Draft, live Thursday night from 1 a.m. on NFL Game Pass, Sky Sports Action, Sky Sports Mix or listen along with talkSPORT.